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Do You Care If Your Kids Stay Catholic?

Startling new Pew figures show only 35 percent of US Catholic parents strongly want their children to grow up to share their religious views
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Back home, at last, from Ireland. What a trip! I'm going to be thinking about this for a while. The holy wells, the medieval hermit's cave, the ruins of ancient monasteries. There wasn't enough time. Being there in such a "thin" place only magnifies the tragedy of Christianity's collapse in the Emerald Isle.

But look at this sign of time times in America, from Pew Research:


Pew goes on to say that

About a third (35%) of U.S. parents with children under 18 say it’s extremely or very important to them that their kids have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. But attitudes on this question vary by the religious affiliation of the parents.

A bar chart showing that White evangelical parents in the U.S. are most likely to say it’s important that their kids share their religious views when they’re adults

The story that this graphic accompanies clarifies that:


Views on this question also differ by how frequently parents attend religious services. Parents who attend religious services weekly or more often are more than three times as likely as those who attend less often to say it’s important to raise children who will share their religious views (76% vs. 21%).

That's an important caveat. It is well established in social science that parents who don't practice the faith regularly are more likely to raise kids who are unbelievers, or at least who don't care much about religion. It stands to reason, then, that if you aren't going to services faithfully, you are probably not going to care overmuch what kind of religious beliefs your kids have.

On the other hand, some do. I have known Evangelical converts out of Catholicism who report that their parents only went to mass on Christmas and Easter, but were hurt and offended when their kid became serious about Christianity, and joined an Evangelical church. Something similar happened to me with my dad when I left Methodism for Catholicism in my twenties. Our family only intermittently went to church. My finding Jesus as a Catholic upset my dad, not for theological reasons at all (he had nothing against Catholics, and couldn't have told you the differences between Methodists and Mormons), but because to him, it felt like betraying family tradition.

Still, it is telling that so few Catholic and Mainline Protestant parents are indifferent to their children's religious beliefs. By now, you kind of expect that from Mainline Protestants; the theological indifference of so many Mainline parents to the faith of their children tracks with the decline of those denominations. Besides, as denominational distinctives have faded among Protestants of all kinds, it is not hard to understand why it may not concern a regular-churchgoing Presbyterian parent all that much if her child ends up worshiping at a non-denominational Bible church -- as long as the kid goes to church somewhere.

But Catholicism makes very strong claims about its uniqueness. It's startling to see how low those numbers are for Catholics. True, it's almost certainly the case that the mere 35 percent of Catholic parents who are extremely/very concerned that their children share their faith are also those who attend mass weekly. Even so, that low number is a bad sign for American Catholicism's future.

Did you know that most US Hispanics are not Catholic? TIt happened over only a single decade. Almost all of the decline away from Catholicism is due not to conversion, but to Hispanic Catholics losing their faith. Hispanic Protestants, by contrast, gained slightly:

Here's another startling fact about US Catholics from Pew:

Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S. Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as Protestants, or with another religion. By contrast, 2% of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism – people who now identify as Catholic after having been raised in another religion (or no religion). This means that there are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith.  No other religious group analyzed in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study has experienced anything close to this ratio of losses to gains via religious switching.

What to make of all this? I've said before that when I became Catholic, I was surprised to discover that despite what the Church says officially, Catholic parish life in the United States is pretty much Mainline Protestantism. There are reasons for that; one important one is that many bishops and priests are trying to be all things to all people, and keep everybody happy by being as generic as possible. (A good book to read about how this kind of thing went down in one important archdiocese is the Catholic journalist Phil Lawler's rich explanation of the collapse of Catholicism in Boston, The Faithful Departed. It started there long before the abuse scandal, and, says Lawler, is mostly down to the hierarchy deciding that assimilation to American norms was the most important thing.)

The collapse of Catholicism in Ireland was much swifter and harsher than in the US, for reasons particular to Ireland and its relationship to the Church. But its steadily happening in the United States too, as the entire country rapidly de-Christianizes. The Pew numbers are yet more evidence that though the decline is affecting all churches, it's especially hard on Catholics and Mainline Protestants. The churches that will survive this Great Falling Away are those who are crowded with people who believe that that form of Christianity offers something nobody else has, and is worth passing on to their kids. That 70 percent of white Evangelicals believe it's extremely/very important that their kids believe as they do is no guarantee that their kids actually will, but it's a much better start than Catholics or Mainline Protestants have.

If you can't comment below but have something you'd like me to consider for publication as an update, write to me at rod -- at -- amconmag -- dot -- com, and put the word CATHOLIC in the subject line.


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Adrian Gaty
Adrian Gaty
Look too at what happened in Quebec, in one generation, almost unbelievable how fast it all collapsed.

As for the pew survey, more on it here:
“ But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. Here, have a Valium.””
schedule 8 months ago
Lee Podles
Lee Podles
Why has Catholicism in America (and other countries) collapsed so rapidly? Did Vatican II cause or contribute to the collapse? Or would the collapse have been worse without Vatican II?

Sociologists are puzzled by the rapid and almost complete evaporation of Catholicism in countries such as Holland. When they seek explanations, all people can tell them is “when I was young people went to church; that was a different era, now nobody goes to church.” But why did the change occur? It occurred in so many countries since the 1960s it is unlikely that there were causes unique to each country. There must a common element.

And whatever it was, it did not affect all Christian groups equally. Catholics were harder hit than conservative Evangelical Protestants, and liberal Mainline Protestants were as hard hit as Catholics. In my native city, Baltimore, there has been a 99% decline in mass attendance (there are also demographic factors in play). When I was a teenager, 250,000 Catholics attended mass very Sunday in the city of Baltimore; in 2022, 2,500 attend on a given Sunday. And the State of Maryland hasn’t yet released the Attorney General’s report on sexual abuse in the Baltimore archdiocese; I expect the number of people attending mass will be halved again.

I think that a major factor was the pace of change initiated by Vatican II. Catholics had developed habits, and suddenly many of them were broken: Mass was in English and Latin forbidden, Friday abstinence was abolished. Sexual morality was widely questioned by priest and theologians. The Catholic Church had developed a culture in which everything – teaching, rituals, disciplines, devotions, customs ¬¬-- reinforced everything else, and suddenly everything seemed up for grabs. There was no certainty; all Church teachings were called into question, even if they were not denied. Mainline Protestants had already gone through this process and had declined earlier, but now Catholics were going down the same slope. Pope Francis, who seems stuck in the 1960s, seems to think that Catholicism is overly rigid and needs loosening up. He is only accelerating the decline.

By contrast, Evangelical Protestants at least looked to the Bible for certainty. This certainty has helped preserve them to some extent from erosion; but can it last indefinitely? I wish them well; they are the main group preserving a Christian presence in America.
Some Catholics want a restoration of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. A key to the restoration is to restore the fear of hell. Catholics, according to this group, don’t believe that everyone is in immediate danger of going to hell. That is why they don’t evangelize, that is why they don’t go to mass, that is why they don’t go to confession, that is why they don’t join religious orders. They don’t fear enough about their salvation and the salvation of others. In other words, Catholicism’s strength is based on the fear of hellfire it can use to motivate its members to do the right thing. It worked for a long while, but I doubt it could work again.

Basing a religion on fear rather than on a love of the good may work for a while, but I have doubts that it is ultimately in accord with the message of the Gospel.

When I was growing up, most people in my parish attended mass because it was obligatory and missing it was a mortal sin which, if unconfessed, would inevitably send the person to hell. When the fear evaporated, so did the attendance

I am now in an Ordinariate parish, which as a 1½ - 2 hour sung mass every Sunday preceded by an hour of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and followed by a 1½-2 hour breakfast. People drive from the far exurbs to come. The large majority of the congregation is small children. The children are disappointed when they have to go to a church with a shorter mass, and even (and this astonishes me) will later watch our solemn mass which has been live streamed. I can’t remember a single hell fire sermon in this church; people come not because they fear punishment, but because they love God and seek to worship Him in beauty and because they joy in one another’s company. I think this is a sounder basis for religion, and children who grow up in it are, I hope and think, less likely to fall away.
schedule 8 months ago
Honestly, as a fairly devout Catholic parent, this neither alarms nor surprises me.

About 1/3 of Catholics attend weekly mass, too.

But even 1/3 of American Catholics is a LOT of people. 22 Million.

22 Million genuinely *practicing* Catholics.

Yes, parish and schools will close and merge in the next generation. But lets be honest - most people leaving the Church are the ones who aren't really coming anymore anyway, and haven't been for sometime. They are "Catholic" in the sense that they "made their sacraments" and have grandparents from Poland or Ireland or Italy. It has always been a cultural thing for them. Most of them aren't really attending anymore, anyway.

But 22 Million people - attending weekly mass, making an effort to care about what the Church teaches, raising their children diligently in the faith - that is a strong, faithful core to build off of. And I very much believe that a strong core is an essential prerequisite to evangelization, and as the Church contracts it will be able to strengthen that core and build off it.
schedule 8 months ago